Many healthcare businesses have adopted online appointment scheduling services to enable patients to self-schedule their appointments. While there are many services to choose from, healthcare providers must consider HIPAA when choosing which service to use. Why does your appointment scheduling service need to be HIPAA compliant?

Well, when patients schedule appointments online, they need to provide protected health information, such as their name and contact information, to be able to schedule their appointments. For this reason, these services are considered business associates under HIPAA, and therefore must be HIPAA compliant for providers to use the service. So, what do you need to look for? HIPAA compliant appointment scheduling services have certain things in common as discussed below.

HIPAA Compliant Appointment Scheduling and HIPAA Security Requirements

There are certain security features that are required to be in place to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information (PHI) submitted through online appointment schedulers. These features must limit PHI access for authorized employees, as well as prevent unauthorized access or disclosure of PHI.

Features to look for to ensure HIPAA compliant appointment scheduling include:

  • User Authentication: confirms the identity of users by requiring unique login credentials to access the platform. This enables both the detection of unauthorized access to PHI, and excessive access by employees.
  • Access Controls: limits access to data to only employees that require access to the information. Only employees that require access to the software to perform their job function should be given access to the platform.
  • Audit Logs: as HIPAA requires PHI access to be limited to the “minimum necessary” to perform a job function, it is important to keep track of who accesses what information. Audit logs enable administrators to determine if an employee’s login credentials are being used to access the platform outside of their normal access patterns. This aids in the detection of both internal and external breaches.
  • Encryption: prevents unauthorized individuals from accessing data. When encryption is implemented, sensitive data is converted into a format that can only be read by users possessing a decryption key.

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HIPAA Compliant Appointment Scheduling and Business Associate Agreements

While determining whether or not a software platform is secure is important, it is not the only factor that plays a role in its HIPAA compliance. Even the most secure software platform is not HIPAA compliant if the provider is unwilling or unable to sign a business associate agreement (BAA). The reason this is so is because a BAA requires each signing party to agree to implement an effective compliance program to meet HIPAA standards. A BAA also requires each party to be responsible for maintaining their compliance. Additionally, BAAs generally determine which party is responsible for reporting a breach of PHI should one occur. Should a breach occur, the presence of a signed BAA also limits the liability of signing parties as only the responsible party will be implicated. Without a BAA, both parties would be found liable and noncompliant, subject to HIPAA fines and corrective actions.

Examples of HIPAA Compliant Appointment Scheduling Services

While you now know what to look for when choosing a HIPAA compliant appointment scheduling service, we thought we would save you some time and provide you with a few popular HIPAA compliant online appointment scheduling services.

  • Google Calendar
  • Acuity (Powerhouse plan or a custom Enterprise plan)
  • Yellow Schedule (only paid version)
  • BirchPress
  • NexHealth

As always, make sure to secure a signed BAA from the platform you choose before using it to schedule patient appointments, and train your staff on its proper use before providing them access to the HIPAA compliant online appointment scheduling platform.

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